“…Alright,” Lü Fan replied. “As I was saying, I- …Oh, I see why you
laugh: yes, that took me a moment… it is the same things, over and over… but I
must continue. Yes, I want to see Liu’s threat eliminated and will resort to
any scheme to achieve it because I see in him the greatest threat at present.”
“So why do you ask why I employ controversial schemes, make strange alliances and whatnot?” Zhou Yu asked. “Is there some other way to end the threat and work toward our other goals - the removal of Liu Zhang of Yi Province as a threat, confronting the ever-present Cao Cao, and the founding of a strong southern state that can grow and prosper under the benevolent rule of the Sun clan of Fuchun…?”
“…Not, I admit, that I can see,” Lü Fan replied. “Perhaps I just wondered whether this latest excursion was another great adventure, and that maybe you hoped to find yourself another beauty like Lady Qiao…?”
Zhou Yu - whose epithets included ‘Handsome Zhou’ in reference to his appearance - smiled and said, “My lady is enough for me, Ziheng, and I think that you are being flippant now. What is it that you fear?”
“…You are an irreplaceable foundation stone, Gongjin,” Lü Fan replied. “Your genius far exceeds mine; the army admire you as much as Bofu; you will one day be a great patron of the arts as well as our finest field officer and Chief Commander. Don’t take risks that-”
“I have heard this twice from Lu Su,” Zhou Yu interrupted. “I do what I must.”
“…Please promise me that you haven’t got grander things in mind for Lu Su,” Lü Fan said suddenly. “I know that you owe him for his generosity, but-”
“If - as you ever-so-slightly hint - the worst occurred, then I must think of the need for diplomacy while the state recovers its wits, after which I would hope that you would take my place,” Zhou Yu replied. “I think that Bofu would prefer that in the long term, and it is for him that I do all this, because the vision of a powerful, independent south is our shared dream.”
“It’s why we’re both doing all this in a way, isn’t it…?” Lü Fan said
wistfully. “I wonder when we shall see our dream truly realised…”
“The sooner I leave, the sooner that question will be answered,” Zhou Yu replied.
“…Then I shall say ‘good luck’, Gongjin, and see you to your carriage,” Lü Fan said. “We shall not speak again for a while, quite possibly, while you proceed with your efforts, and…”
“…Perhaps,” Gongjin replied: he was smiling sadly as he spoke, because he understood his friend’s fears and shared them. The future of the southern region of Jiangdong rested in Zhou Yu’s hands, and the next steps taken, if he faltered, might cause yet more upheaval in a vast and eroded empire that was already on the verge of collapse.